Monday, January 29

Antoine Doinel for the 21st century?

In What Time is it There?, Tsai Ming-Liang obviously betrays his French New Wave influences and tendencies with the scenes of Hsiao-Kang watching the 400 Blows. Upon watching What Time is it There? a second time, this time after seeing many other Tsai Ming-Liang films, I have come to believe that Lee Kang-Sheng is Antoine Doinel for the 21st century.

I realize this seems absurd as Antoine Doinel was/is a character and Lee Kang-Sheng is a real person. However, over the years, the distintion between Jean-Pierre Leaud and Antoine Doinel become extremely blurred. Leaud's appearances in other films outside the Doinel series seemed to reflect this. In Masculin-Feminine, although his character's name is Paul, Leaud may as well be Doinel in the film, given his character's behavior and outlook. While appearances in many other films are too brief to adequately draw similar conclusions, there is at least no discontinuity between these appearances and the character of Doinel.

This is especially the case with Leaud's brief appearance in What Time is it There? If "man in cemetery" is seen as Antoine Doinel rather than Jean-Pierre Leaud, Doinel is still following his heart to whatever depths of folly it may lead. The awkwardness of an old man hitting on Shiang-Chyi is alleviated when we recognize that this is familiar old Antoine falling in love with any woman he has the chance to bump into.

By hitting on his love interest, Jean-Pierre Leaud is passing the torch of being one of the most familiar faces of one of the most important movements in cinema in the 20th century to Lee Kang-Sheng as one of the most familiar faces of one of the most important movements in cinema in the 21st century. Kang-Sheng appears in virtually every work of Ling-Miang's, much like Leaud and Truffaut, although less freqently for Leaud and Truffaut. Kang-Sheng drives the movement of most Ling-Miang films through the largely carefree and reckless actions of his characters...much like Leaud and Truffaut. From the wacky (setting clocks to French time/getting a job driving rc boats around) to the criminal (destroying a motorcycle/stealing milk), the characters that Jean-Pierre Leaud and Lee Kang-Sheng play have a fundamental similarity about them.

This is why I believe that the inclusion of Hsiao-Kang watching the 400 blows and Jean-Pierre Leaud in What Time is it There? are more than homage from Tsai Ming-Liang. Lee Shang-Keng is Antoine Doinel for the next generation. There are some problems with this theory. Lee Kang-Sheng plays a different character in each of Tsai Ming-Liang's films. In each, he has a different type of familial relationship with Lu Yi-Ching and Miao Tien. Tsai Ming-Liang uses all three of these actors in each of these films, so Lee Kang-Sheng's reappearances are not as unique as Jean-Pierre Leaud's. However, this are indications that Truffaut and Leaud are inspirations to Tsai Ming-Liang, but he is not ripping them off. Ultimately, a case remains that the similarities as inspiration and differences as artistry leave Lee Kang-Sheng as Tsai Ming-Liang's Jean-Pierre Leaud.